Dolly Lane is a dreamer; a downtrodden maid who longs to dance on the London stage, but the outbreak of war takes everything from her: Teddy, the man she loves – and her hopes of a better life.
When she secures employment as a chambermaid at London’s grandest hotel, The Savoy, Dolly’s proximity to the dazzling guests makes her yearn for a life beyond the grey drudgery she was born into. Her fortunes take an unexpected turn when she responds to an unusual newspaper advert and finds herself thrust into the heady atmosphere of London’s glittering theatre scene and into the sphere of the celebrated actress, Loretta May, and her brother, Perry.
All three are searching for something, yet the aftermath of war has cast a dark shadow over them all. A brighter future is tantalisingly close – but can a girl like Dolly ever truly leave her past behind?
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Why on earth did I leave it so long to read a book by Hazel Gaynor even if said book was utterly fantastic? I'll admit I have Hazel's two previous releases The Girl Who Came Home and A Memory of Violets waiting patiently in my huge T.B.R but it was this third release The Girl from the Savoy which really sparked my interest and made me want to read my first Hazel Gaynor. Thankfully I wasn't one bit disappointed and anyone else I know reading this book feels the exactly same way. The author has such an incredible way of sucking you into the story and time period that you find this book extremely hard to put down. Yes it is quite hefty at over 500 pages but it doesn't drag in any way as you are so absorbed in the story of the irrepressible young girl Dolly Lane with big dreams and ambitions who only wants to see herself on the stage doing what she loves best. Although the cover for the UK edition of this book is nice for once I fell totally in love with the US cover and normally it is always the opposite way around for me. But the cover is only one minor aspect even if it is what catches people's eyes in a bookshop it's what's inside that counts and here the plot,characters and setting jump out at you from the pages as the reader is made to feel they are transported back in time to the roaring twenties the era of The Bright Young Things.
The book is set in the early 1920's when the shadows of World War One still hang over the world, men and women are struggling to come to terms with all they have witnessed and endured. It is hard to pick up the pieces after witnessing such horrors and devastation but a chink of light is appearing. The upper classes are enjoying wild raucous parties full of dances and merriment. The theatres are full to capacity and maybe there is hope for the future. War altered people in so many ways and now change and movement needs to happen in all aspects of life. Women are determined to fight for their liberties and independence. As Hazel says 'The past is a vibrant colourful world in which people fell in and out of love, fought for their beliefs, faced poverty and fear about their families. Not so very different to modern life at all'. That is is so very true but the people living in the 1920's would be delighted at just how far we have come in under 100 years even if not every aspect of today's society are not all positive. Our heroine Dolly wants to be at the centre of everything in this bright new creative world but there is alot to experience before her hopes can come true.
The prologue opens in 1916 in a Lancashire town as Dolly waves goodbye to her true love Teddy Cooper. Conscription has played a part in their forced separation and Dolly despite her optimism of believing he will be back before people knows he has gone, deep down she understands life will change but can they claw back some sense of normality once everything has been dealt with. Fast forward 7 years later and Dolly is now in London alone and working as a maid for the upper classes which is not what she wanted for her life but needs must. Dolly has always been put down and made to feel like she cannot achieve anything but this girl is a person of character and strength and the reader can see a spark deep within Dolly waiting to burst forth. She is someone who knows what she wants and will achieve it not by ruthless means but through sheer hard work and determination. She will get there eventually but when faced with this comment you do wonder is it all worth it? 'You, Dorothy Lane, are a prime example of someone who will never get on in life. You will never become anything'. As Dolly is rushing for an interview in the famous Savoy hotel in London she literally bumps into Perry Clements a struggling musician returned from the war. This chance meeting will instigate a series of events which will have a profound effect on Dolly. Dolly is accepted for the job in the Savoy and here is where the book begins to shine as the authors writing comes alive. Her descriptive abilities make the hotel feel like a character itself and it was fascinating to read about a world where quite often only the privileged few get access too. Viewing the hotel and the world of The Bright Young Things from Dolly's eyes was fascinating and full of such rich and interesting detail. 'The Savoy is much more than a hotel Dorothy. It has a personality all of its own.It casts a sort of spell on people the moment they walk through the door and step into the front hall'. I can say I felt the exact same about this book as it cast a spell on me so much that I read it in two sittings and was sad to turn the last page.
The story is told from three perspectives that of Dolly, Teddy and Loretta. Teddy's chapters are heart breaking, moving and so incredibly raw and honest. Told so simply yet everything the author wanted to convey was there and as you reach the conclusion of his storyline you find yourself letting out a sigh and realising the beauty of what Hazel had written. That a character had never given up hope but in the end had to make an unbearable decision to move on through tears and hurt through no ones creation except external world events. Loretta is a star at the end of a glistening career struggling with internal emotions and happenings. Her reluctance to give in and accept the inevitable future will tear you apart but her relationship with Dolly and her goal to see a brighter future for the young girl is to be cherished and applauded. Loretta is tormented by the past, holding in too many secrets and turning a blind eye to the inevitable. She is a strong woman but I understood how she was reluctant to let go without making sure she had done her best with everything in the present whilst preparing for the future. The connections between Perry, Dolly and Loretta once established flow naturally throughout the storyline and do make you believe' wonderful adventures await those who dare to find them'. Dolly herself is comparable to Loretta not in terms of background, social standing or wealth but how she has also suffered and an event is hanging over her tearing her apart.She needs some resolution before she can fully embrace her true destiny. 'By the time war was over, my heart was broken my dreams were shattered, my hopes were bruised.Without ever stepping onto a battlefield, I too was wounded'. This story tells Dolly's journey to peace and happiness incredibly well and highlights just what a special, gifted storyteller Hazel Gaynor truly is. She brings the past to life in such a scintillating, dazzling way that that you will be sorry to leave the characters behind.
What sets this book apart from other historical fiction that may be out there at the moment is the attention to detail and the simply sublime writing. There were so many sentences where I felt the need to stop and take stock for a moment and normally I race through a book where as here I wanted to savour every moment. Hazel has done impeccable research and clearly enjoyed the entire process of writing this book as the characters, plot and setting are all covered to perfection. I found myself equally enamoured with both Dolly and the glamorous movie star Loretta May even though they are poles apart in terms of backgrounds and careers the author established how in the end we are all the same. We have aspirations for ourselves some are achievable some or not. We have challenges and difficulties. Some are rich some are poor but beneath it all we are all made of the same stuff and a common bond/friendship/trust/love can be created and can see us through the good and bad times. People can sense Dolly is unique and destined for great things and so too can Loretta as she wants to harbour Dolly's talents and know that in addition to her career she has left a legacy and helped someone see their goals come true.
What I did enjoy was that yes in a way this was a rags to riches story but yet it wasn't too in your face. I wouldn't have liked it if the story became too seedy and Dolly was hurt or experienced the nasty side of the world she inhabited. Instead it was so tastefully written and I grew to love Dolly and Loretta in equal measure even if Loretta's story pulled at the heartstrings. Her willingness to help others and hide her own suffering was admirable to say the least. At the beginning of each chapter there was a quote which I soon came to learn would be features somewhere within the chapter, I found myself eager to see how said quote would fit in with the development of the story in that chapter and a contented smile would come to my face when I discovered how Hazel had weaved it in to the story. I've not seen this done before and thought it was very clever.
Hazel Gaynor really makes you feel like you have travelled back in time you believe in the characters and their stories that they actually did exist at the time where anything was achievable with some courage and strength. The Girl from the Savoy will make you want to take a trip to London and stay in the Savoy and just sit there in contemplation imagining Dolly working there behind the scenes cleaning the rooms, trying on a dress or shoe belonging to a rich lady or movie star when she thought no one was looking. But deep down Dolly knew she was destined for greater things and despite sadness in her past with an event that haunts her (which I might add was brilliantly handled towards the end and it was such a nice touch that the usual clichés didn't apply. I liked that Hazel went against the norm as it allowed the story to feel even more real and not every strand of a story has to conform to convention), she was going to reach the top and Loretta could see that in Dolly and wanted the best for her. 'The longing for something has never left me. I felt it like a fluttering of wings in my heart'.
This book will make you want to cut your hair into the flapper style and to throw a 1920's themed evening with dancing and cocktails galore. The Girl from The Savoy proved to be an exhilarating journey into the past full of vibrancy, depth, honesty and emotion which provided an insightful view into a time of dazzling theatre shows and fascinating characters all seen through the eyes of a young woman who grows and develops wonderfully throughout the novel. Yes we read of other characters viewpoints but it truly was Dolly who was the star of this book and the one who will remain with you for quite some time. So if you find yourself looking for an intelligent, detailed, absorbing, brilliantly written story this summer this book is the one for you and I'm sure Hazel will earn plenty of new fans with this release (me included). I'm excited to discover what era Hazel will take us to next.
Many thanks to Mary Byrne from Harper Collins Ireland for my copy of The Girl from the Savoy to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.